Demi Lovato, it seems, lives in a constant state of artistic remorse. They have settled into a pattern in recent years: Promote their current album by dismissing their old music. Repeatedly, Lovato tells us why this album finally represents who they are as a person, while explicitly stating how their old music fell short of doing so. “The real me,” then, is something of a moving target.
This seems disarming in its honesty. We love a superstar who can own up to imperfections! It’s especially endearing if you, like Lovato, don’t particularly enjoy their past music. But this pattern begs some questions: Is Demi Lovato a perfectionist, or do they just have a good marketing idea and are stuck in a loop? Let’s examine the evidence.
Here’s what that looks like this time around, as Lovato prepares to release their eighth album, Holy Fvck, in August. From a recent interview with Audacy Music:
This album I’m really proud of. And when I look back at the last album I made, it’s not that I’m not proud of it, it’s just I don’t know who that person was. There are songs on there that I am very proud of, but there are also songs on there that I’m like…I don’t that person. I think I was really struggling to find my identity as an artist, as a person, and now going into this album with a clear head, I was focused. I was able to write about what was important to me without being clouded by substances. So I just feel more sure of myself as a person, as an artist, and that’s why I think this body of work is gonna be the one that I’m the most proud of.
Funny that Lovato should reference the last album they made because...this is very similar to what they said then, as they were promoting 2021's Dancing with the Devil... the Art of Starting Over. In an interview with the New York Times, Lovato said: “When I look back at music in the past that was more hesitant to be as open as I am today, I feel like I just robbed myself of vulnerability in some of those songs.” Regarding 2013's Demi and 2015's Confident, Lovato told the paper:
“I don’t know if it’s because it reminds me of the people that were in my life during those times or if it just doesn’t feel that authentic to myself. I had really believed in myself after putting “Skyscraper” [from 2011's Unbroken] out, for the Grammys. I was like, I might have a shot now! And then I put out another album — nothing....So I dove into, all right, what is the formula for a pop star that’s top of the charts? She shows her skin, she’s a lot fitter, and you know, she wears leotards onstage. So I played that role for a minute. And that didn’t fulfill me at all.”
They elaborated to Glamour, also during the Dancing with the Devil press cycle: “I was trying on different identities that felt authentic to me but weren’t me. The super-feminine pop star was an identity that sounded like it fit and looked like it fit, so I put it on like it fit.” A few months after that feature ran, Lovato came out as nonbinary.
Hopping back to the album before Devil, 2017's Tell Me You Love Me, the singer told Vice that this time it was for real: “As great as my last album turned out—I’m really proud of it and I love all the songs on it. It just wasn’t, I feel like, who I am today and the artist I want to be.” Also:
When I went on tour and I sang all pop stuff it just wasn’t fun for me. It wasn’t soulful; I wasn’t getting into the songs. It was just kind of going through the motions. And when I came off tour, I was like, “You know what, I want to write music that’s going to be fun for me to sing every night.”
“That last album,” 2015's Confident—Lovato’s fifth—though was who they were, or so they claimed at the time:
“My fifth album is different and it’s better because I spent so many years trying to figure out what the public wants, trying to get my music out there, focusing on what’s going to be a hit song, rather than just letting it come organically,” they said during a live promo event. “And when I was able to do that, when I was able to let go, going into this album I told myself, ‘I don’t care if it’s gonna be accepted by everyone. What I want is I wanna make sure I’m true to who I am and authentic to myself as an artist.’ So that’s what’s different on this album.”
Yes. Every time it is different in the same way. This is how Demi Lovato albums are like sex with a longterm partner.
Specifically referencing the preceding album, 2013's Demi, in an interview with U.K. host Alan Carr during Confident promo, Lovato said, “I think, on my last album I didn’t really know myself as an artist as well as I do today. A lot of that comes from caring too much about what people thought...There is a transition period from Disney to the mainstream adult world and I didn’t want to transition too fast. So I feel like being 23 I can do that without caring so much if people are going to react to this or that - this is who I am.”
However, to Glamour in 2021, Lovato revealed that during the Confident era, “I wasn’t confident at all. I had a false confidence because I was conforming to everybody else’s ideals.”
To an extent, Lovato is articulating the evolution inherent in most pop stars’ careers. Every album, in theory, marks a change, and often that change is tied directly to the identity of the star (or the identity they’re trying to project). Rarely, though, do you hear such a singer renounce their past work for its inauthenticity—and as a repeated talking point, this is practically unheard of. This refrain, if sincere, belies a habit. When one is in the habit of putting out content that doesn’t represent their true self only to admit it later, we have to wonder if this time it’s for real, regardless of what Lovato says. “I’m ready to feel like myself. I’m finally being honest with myself,” they told the Times in 2021. And hey, if it doesn’t work out this time, there’s always next.